Monday, 4 May 2015

Quant Peace Research Part 2: Secret (or Unrecognized) Agents

This is the second post on quantitative peace and conflict analysis.  Here, I want to focus on agents and agency or the actors who have the power in key situations.  My examples draw primarily from recent research and from a paper under development on cultural concepts of culpability, agency, doubt, and justice in the context of post-conflict reconciliation.  I just delivered the paper at a conference on Human Welfare in Conflict at Oxford's Green Templeton College and got some terrific feedback from audience members, particularly from Somaliland, the Philippines, and the Ukraine who all basically said it was 'mindblowing.' (I think that's good?) 

Driving questions: Does the ICT format presume a western concept of agency or perpetrator/victim relationship in the underlying narrative structure governing the interface and information management design?  Does the format of the ICT homogenize non-western concepts of culpability in order to fit within its narrative constraints?  How can we interpret data collected with this design flaw?   
This post continues to examine results from the experiment that compared three recalls by Acholi-English speakers who had watched a video of a slightly violent, but mostly chaotic street scene.  In terms of ascribing agency-- who was responsible or culpable for the violence and chaos-- the experimental model brought into relief the contrast between the Acholi conceptualization of agent and that which was inherently designed into the ICT format.  The result of the experiment was that participants tended to frame the event as a fight involving several people during their initial oral Acholi recall, but during their recall via ICT, they often shifted the agency from a group to an individual.  

This shift occurred in two ways.  First, there was a change from 'they' to 'he'.   Second, the selection of schema relied to some extent on the participation of bystanders.  The role of bystanders, or the group/relational conceptualization of agency around the main action dissolves in many cases in the ICT format.  This aspect deserves more study.  It is possible that there was a narrative structure (the phrasal order or connection) that was interrupted which integrated the role of bystanders into other concepts within the narrative.  For example, if two interconnected concepts are separated when interviewing a witness, sometimes the witness will become confused about context and give a misleading statement.  In this way, the ICT format did not anticipate the necessity to link the role of bystanders with event framing (although there were closed an open questions which addressed the concept). 

Another issue examined here involves the response to Question 4: Who was the Attacker?  as well as the open format SMS responses related to the same frame.  The issue was that participants conflated the person being beaten (victim) with the person giving the beating (attacker).  This was due to their culturally learned schema, selected from cues such as the role of bystanders as well as the behavior of the person being beaten. 
Is the problem of identifying the attacker a conceptual transfer issue because Acholi’s object pronouns do not map conceptually into English pronouns?  This is a problem of categorization in which one language’s categories are more or less numerous than another’s and perhaps not governed by the same conceptual qualities.  (Think of English you vs. French tu/vous.) The results of the experiment revealed that the participants tended to frame the event in stage 1 in terms which did not focus on a specific actor as the primary agent; however, the event conceptualization supporting the ICT-formatted questions presupposes a responsible or culpable agent.  The stage 1 language, specifically the pronouns and the subject carried within the verbs, proved to be difficult for some participants to navigate in English during stage 3.  How did this conceptual challenge come across in stage 2 when the participants recalled their narratives via mobile technology format?.... First, a bit more about the concept of 'agent.'
Boroditsky (2010) explains the value of looking at the role of the ‘agent’ in multiple languages.  This has not been considered for Nilotic languages such as Acholi.  She describes:
In studies conducted by Caitlin Fausey at Stanford, speakers of English, Spanish and Japanese watched videos of two people popping balloons, breaking eggs and spilling drinks either intentionally or accidentally. Later everyone got a surprise memory test: For each event, can you remember who did it? She discovered a striking cross-linguistic difference in eyewitness memory. Spanish and Japanese speakers did not remember the agents of accidental events as well as did English speakers. Mind you, they remembered the agents of intentional events (for which their language would mention the agent) just fine. But for accidental events, when one wouldn't normally mention the agent in Spanish or Japanese, they didn't encode or remember the agent as well.
English emphasizes the agent when events are intentional.  When the presence of an agent appears in the Acholi-ICT, this was most likely evidence of conceptual transfer.  Participants frequently struggled to identify the perpetrator with any specificity.  They answered simply lacoo//a guy or dano//a person (participants 3, 9, and 24); lakwo// the thief (Participant 6); gipol// the many (Participant 28); and dano ma labal// the trouble causer (Participant 5).  These were difficult to convert conceptually into English in stage 3.  Principally, they did not fit easily within the concept of the ICT information structure which anticipates more specific identification of an agent or agents; the categories available within the application’s design anticipate a certain structure of information built around cause and effect (the same as in English).  The Acholi narrative does not structure the interaction between all the individuals in the video with the same causal connections or with the same notion of culpability.  This was reflected in their choice of schema and subsequently, in their language choices. 
Agent or agency has another meaning.  Barlas and Obhi (2013) offered a definition from neuroscience that captures the essence of what social scientists investigate.  They asserted, “The sense of agency is an intriguing aspect of human consciousness and is commonly defined as the sense that one is the author of their own actions and their consequences.”  Barlas and Obhi (2013, abstract) conducted a study in which they, “. . . varied the number of action alternatives (one, three, seven) that participants could select from and determined the effects on intentional binding which is believed to index the low-level sense of agency.” (ibid) From a neuroscience perspective, these researchers investigated the effects of choice on sense of agency.  Participants’ sense of agency increased when the number of choices they were presented with increased.  This has implications for ICT design used in the context of democratic participation.  It would seem that streamlining could potentially diminish the agency of individuals in the context of ICT use.  The goal of this research is to develop a new variable (cognitive/cultural) to increase the usability of ICTs for users outside the western context. 
Consider the following two examples which included an SMS and a smart phone path: In stage 1, only awobi//guy or young man was used initially then the concept of the person was integrated into the verbs and object pronouns in Acholi.  However, in stage 3, the English account required the speaker to make a choice in nearly every sentence to be more specific with regards to the subject and object.  This exposed the incongruence between the Acholi and English conceptual categories for persons.  In stage 2a and 2b, the Acholi concept of agent resisted the format suggested by the ICT information structure because there was no clear mental match.  This is similar to the category mapping issues described in section 3, for example, in Spanish there is a plural and singular form of ‘you’ that both map to one word in English.  This can cause pronoun problems for English speakers in Spanish.  For Acholi, the actor and indirect object are connected to the verb.  When an Acholi speaker must identify the actor and object in a phrase each time, he or she may reach for synonyms that roughly map to the concept in Acholi, but it is not a one-to-one concept match just as when an English speaker wants to say ‘you’ in Spanish.
Participant 19
Stage 1: Gin ma aneno. Aneno awobi ma nen calo okwalo gin mo, so tye ka ngweci then dano obino gitye ka goyo ne ey kitye ka penyo ne pingo okwanyo gin eno ni, so, dano madwong obino opong ikome ki dano tye ka dongo ne gitye ka goyo ne ki mayo ngo ma onongo tye icinge ma en okwanyo, yeah so en bene obedo ka ngwec tye ka ringo cen but dano tye ka lubo kore madwong kitye kawoti dongo ne ki goyo ne.//Things that I saw. I saw a guy who maybe stole something, so he was running then people came they were beating him ey they were asking him why he stole that very thing, so, many people came gathered around him and people were beating him they were hitting him they removed what was found in his hand that he had taken, yeah so also he was running away but many people are following him they are at the same time hitting him and beating him.
Stage 2b:
1.    Ineno_____? mony, kwo, laro lok// You saw____? Fight, theft, argument
Kwo// theft
2.    Ingeyo nining? //How do you know?
Aneno dano tye ka goyo ne.// I see people are hitting him
3.    Dano adi ma obedo iye?  2, 3-4, pol kato 4 // How many people were there?
4.    Nga ma obedo lamony dano? Which person was the attacker?
Dano ma lakwo.//The person who is the thief
5.    Cwinyi tek i kom lamgam eni? Cwinya tek adida, cwinya tek, cwinya pe tek tutwal// Do you feel sure about this answer?
Cwinya pe tek tutwal //I don’t feel sure at all
Stage 3: Yeah, from the beginning, I saw there was a boy and some gentleman, so that gentleman started slapping that guy like trying to fight him, and I think the guy had stolen something, so that boy was trying to run away from that guy, but many people are joining, and they also started beating that guy, and like to without even finding out what that guy had done so they just joined like a mob justice, they joined and the boy wanted to leave, to go but like to run away but they followed him until he went when there were many people but those people they joined him and there were also trying, and he went because he picked something, there was something in his hand, so they were trying to remove, one person was trying to remove that thing from the boy’s hand, and others were just trying to,  slapped him, hitting him, like that.
In English, there is a difference between the images of a guy running or a boy running from mob justice.  This would be an important distinction shading the narrative with the innocence of a child or the suspicion of a young man.  The choice of describing someone as ‘a gentleman’ or just ‘a guy’ also colors the recollection in a certain light.  This may seem like a matter of translation (a sometimes arbitrary but necessary choice between synonyms when converting between languages), but it is an indicator of an underlying conceptual category governing the speaker’s choices.  While the subject of this experiment was not translation, the mismatch of conceptual categories for ‘person’ in the role of agent was clear from the comparison of these stages.  If stage 2b had been a closed-question survey consisting of only tickbox options, would the participants’ answers have fit neatly?  Or are they conceptualizing the agent’s role by actions and by social or relational cues rather than by identifying responsible individuals?
The pronoun choices in stage 3 from Participant 22 illustrated this point.  He was challenged by pronouns changing between man, young fellow, and boy as well as using the formal ‘complainant’ to describe the opposing figure. During Stages 1 and 3 there was an expression of doubt and concern about the root cause of the situation both using a repetitive narrative structure.  Stages 1 and 3 matched in their event framing; however, stage 2a did not use ‘doubt’ words and very little repetition.  The concept of theft was hinted at but did not fully materialize as a concept frame.  The SMS version disrupted the conveyance of the social or relational construction of culpability and the description of agency, the framing of the event as a theft.  In stages 1 and 3, the oral versions allowed the full context of the crowd to be integrated in the recall.  In the abbreviated SMS version, the role of the crowd (the fact that no one intervened) was mentioned, but without cultural context, this phrase would not be accessible to a future algorithmic amalgamation of the text to extract the frame ‘theft’ as the participant had intended. 
Participant 22
Stage 1: Aneno dano gitye ka lweny aa videyo eni pe angeyo maber ngo mutime pien ki nyuta ma dano ocako lweny dong nen calo tele moni obedo tye ki kit ma aneno kama videyo eni otime iye, aneno calo tye kamongo ma tye i bus park onyo kama motoka dwong iye ci latin awobi moni matidi eni nen calo lakwo mukwalo gin mo ki i jeba pa lawote ci lawote eno ni dong, tye ka lweny ikome pi gamo jami ne ma en okwanyo ki i jeba, ento ki gum marac pol dano pe tye ka niang ngo ma tye ka time, ci inongo ni i cawa mongo laco ni dok ocung ki cen ngat ma pat aye tye ka dongo awobi ni ngat ma bene pe ngeyo ngo ma onongo tye ka time ci bene kit ma gin ne otum kwede pe wangeyo kono gucobo onyo lwenyi pud gi obi mede kede onyo ngo mutime pe wangeyo ki bene pe waneno laloc mo nyo ngat mo ma bino ka juk dano weng bino ka lweny.// I saw people fighting. Aaa this video, I don’t know well what happened because they showed me that people started fighting already maybe some loggerhead was there how I saw where the video happened, I saw as if it is somewhere at the bus park or where there are many cars, then some small young guy maybe a thief who stole something from the pocket of his peer, then that peer he is fighting with him to collect his things that he picked from his pocket, but unluckily, many people are not understanding what is happening, then you find that at some time that guy again stood from afar someone else is hitting, someone who doesn’t know what is happening, then also how the thing ended we don’t know,  could it be that they made up or the fight was still continued or what happened we don’t know and also we didn’t see any leader or any person who came to stop, all people came to fight.
Stage 2a: Aneno dano dong Kitye kalweny. Pe kinyutu lingo lweny man otimme. ento kama lweny man tye iye onyo bus park nyutu ni cente pa laco ni kiyutu. en tye kalweny kom dano man ento pol dano odonyo iye ata. Ngat mop e ojuku gi.// I saw people hitting they were fighting.  They were not showing why the fight happened but where the fight was or bus park showing a guy’s money they showed.  [but] people they were fighting around there but some people [hesitated] to stop it.  No one stopped them.
Stage 3: Ok based on the scene of that interview, it appears that the crime happened in a bus park where people are traveling. Now the video is so abrupt in how it comes, it doesn’t show us the preceding events or what happened.  You like basically see people fighting and then when you try to follow and to make sense of what could be happening then you get to realize that probably, this man had something in his pocket that the young fellow pocketed and ran away with.  So as he went to recover that thing, a lot of other people came to join in, but they did not know exactly what was going on.  Now instead of stopping the fight, some of them were actually joining the fight. At some point you see the main the main the main complainant or maybe the person trying to recover his thing, he’s even standing behind and it’s another person beating the boy, then all of a sudden again he takes over and people are shouting, but you also don’t see like maybe leaders or people stopping, nobody’s trying to find out really what happened. Yeah.
Subsequent posts will look at narrative construction of doubt/certainty and how it combines with agency to conceptualize culpability. 

Barlas, O., 2013. Freedom, Choice, and the Sense of Agency. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 7:514. (online) (Accessed 19 March 2014).
Boroditsky, L. 2010. Does Language Influence Culture? The Wall Street Journal, 23 July. (online)  (Accessed 20 September 2014).